Chapter Twenty

Over the course of the winter I learned that the road we arrived on was not the only one. It met up with another road, and went south the the channel that separated this land from Gaul, I was told.

“There’s a seaside hamlet at the end of the road,” Gavin’s daughter, Elissa, explained. “It has a ford, which crosses over to Gaul, but I expect that no one will be using that until March.”

“I see,” I said, rubbing my arms in an attempt to warm up. I had taken to walking around Gavin’s lands in order to familiarize myself with them. I couldn’t say that I knew them like the back of my hand, but I did indeed know them well.

“Let’s go back inside,” she said, her teeth chattering.

“Alright,” I said, following her. I had taken the liberties of getting to know Elissa, and I had found her to be delightful company, even though she was so much younger than I. Despite the fact that she looked very much like Leslie, she reminded me of Gavin in her behavior and manner of speech.

“Lady Morgan,” she said, turning to face me suddenly. “Why do you like the outdoors so much, even in this horrid weather?”

I considered her question carefully. As long as I could remember the outdoors had been a safe, freeing place for me, but I had never though over why they were.

Suddenly the answer came to me, and I closed my eyes as the painful memories flooded back. The wind carressed my cheek, like it was trying to comfort me.

“When my father was in a rage, or when he was drunk, or when he was beating my mother, I would escape to the outside. I was always so afraid of him, afriad that I would be next, so I would hide in his fields. No one ever came to take me back in, though, and I would always go to the manor house after several hours of hiding,” I explained, taking a deep breath.

Hot tears were stinging my eyes and I felt them leeking out. Ashamed, I raised a hand to brush them away.

“Oh,” Elissa said, sounding a little uncertain as to how to react.

“My father was a hardened warrior and a strong king, but he was also a fear-inspiring father and a harsh husband,” I said, opening my eyes and holding my head high.

“King?” Elissa asked. “Your father is a king?”

“He was a king,” I said, walking towards the manor house. “He died not too long ago, I’m told.”

“Who was he?” she asked, matching my pace. I glanced at her, a little surprised that Gavin had not told his children about my history.

“Uther Pendragon,” I said. “Of Camelot.”

“You’re from Camelot?” she asked, her eyes wide. “What’s it like there?”

“I haven’t been there since I was ten,” I said. “I’m sure that things have changed since then.”

“Father says that the courts of Camelot are full of all sorts of sin and immorality, and that I am forbidden to ever go there,” Elissa confided. “But everyone says that King Arthur is the handsomest man alive.”

“I expect that your father is right,” I said. “The courts of Camelot are no place for an innocent girl like you, even if the king is good looking.”

“Why?” she asked, pushing the door to the manor’s large kitchen open. The servants were already working on supper, and the crackling of the fire was welcoming after the bitter cold.

“Because the knights of Camelot are not as honorably as the minstrels claim,” I said with a heavy sigh. “At least in general. Your uncle Cyric is a good man, and a knight of Camelot at the same time.”

“I still say it’s unfair,” she said, pouting.

“It’s only for your own protection,” I told her, pushing the door to the servant’s stairwell open. She hurried up the steps, sulking slightly.

Over the course of the next two months, until mid-March, we had several more conversations about Camelot and my family. She was extremely curious, and asked a lot of questions about my past. Above all of those questions, though, she kept asking me why I had left my father’s lands.

“He wasn’t a good father,” I said, trying to explain. “Uther was no more than a tyrant to his wife and daughter. I pity Arthur’s mother, for that reason. Though she succeeded in giving him a living male child.”

The bitterness in my voice must have been obvious, because Elissa asked me no more questions about the subject for several weeks. It still hurt me deeply that my father had cast off my mother, and that he had disowned me. It stung that I hadn’t been good enough for him.

Every evening during those horrid winter nights I spent several hours with Gavin, after Mordred had been put to bed. Some evenings we merely talked, while others we’d play games or read passages from the books he had given me. I enjoyed the time spent with him, and while I longed for him him to be my husband, I couldn’t bring myself to accept his marriage proposal.

March rolled around, and the first of the boats crossing at the ford sent a carriage full of things to Gavin’s lands. The entire household came to greet it, and I followed them curiously.

To my surprise, there was a woman with the carriage, who appeared to be about my age or a little younger, perched amidst the load of foriegn goods. She smiled flirtatiously at Gavin, who offered her a hand down.

“My lord, it is good to see you again,” she said in heavily accented English. I pulled to an abrupt halt as she kissed Gavin on the cheek, stunned.

“How was your trip, madamoiselle?” Gavin asked, as Bartholomew directed the servants on how to unload and where to unload the things.

“Ach,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes and taking a sharp breath. “It was long. There was a storm one night, and I thought that the inn would float away, with all the water!”

“Madamoiselle Blanchette, could you please tell me which of these is your trunk?” Bartholomew interupted politely.

“That one,” the woman said, pointing to a large trunk carelessly.

“Why don’t you come in and warm up while you tell me about your journey?” Gavin said, taking her by the elbow.

“Ah, but who’s this?” the woman asked, catching sight of me.

“She’s an old friend of mine. Morgan, this is Madamoiselle Blanchette. Blanchette, this is Lady Morgan,” Gavin said by way of introduction, looking anxious to get away.

“Lady Morgan?”Blanchette repeated, taking me in. “It’s a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is all mine, I’m sure,” I said, studying her coolly.

“If you’ll excuse us,” Gavin said, carefully avoiding my searching gaze. I watched as he led Blanchette away, feeling numb.

“She’s back,” the elderly woman that cooked for Gavin muttered to the other servants. “That floozy just can’t stay away, can she?”

“Who is she?” I asked the cook.

“Trouble,” she responded snappishly, reaching for the two baskets of exotic fruits and vegitation. “Come into the kitchen.” I followed her, doing as I was told.

“Blanchette was hired to be Lady Leslie’s maid about a year after they married,” the cook told me, sorting through the vegetation in the basket. “She’s from Gaul, and she wasn’t very healthy when Gavin hired her. As near as any of us can figure, she had married an old Briton knight, who either left her or died. She won’t say one way or the other.”

“Poor girl,” I murmured. “It must have been hard for her.”

“Real hard,” the cook snorted. “It wasn’t long after Lady Leslie conceived Samuel that Gavin and Blanchette were caught in the act. Lady Leslie was heartbroken, but also determined that no one should hear about that.”

Hurt and revulsion rose inside of me and I gasped, gripping the table as I felt all of the air leave me lungs. My knees felt week, but they didn’t give way from under me.

“Lady Morgan, are you alright?” the cook asked, studying me. I sat down on the end of the bench by the servant’s table, feeling ill.

“I’ll be fine,” I murmured. “Please, continue your story.”